April 1, 2021

10 Terms to Know to be a Better Ally

Let’s start off with the basics – what is an ally? An ally is someone who makes the commitment and effort to recognize their privilege. They work with oppressed groups in the struggle for justice. You can be an ally to many different oppressed groups, this blog post is about racialized people. Becoming a better ally requires consistent work, and if you’re not sure where to start – this is the guide for you.

1. Anti-racism

You’ve probably heard the phrase “it’s not enough to not be racist, you have to be anti-racist.” What does that mean? How is it different?

Being anti racist means actively opposing racism and promoting the inclusion of IBPOC (Indigenous, Black, People of Color). Just not being racist means you aren’t the one acting on racism, but you’re not changing things either. Remembering that racism occurs on all levels, not just conscious actions is important. Being “not racist” means that you still allow racism to continue. Being anti-racist makes you constantly question your actions and thoughts and become a better ally.

2. Colonization & Decolonization

Colonization is an invasion, dispossession and controlling of groups. In our context, colonization often refers to the displacement of Indigenous peoples upon the arrival of European settlers. The result is a system that benefits the colonizer at the expense of those colonized.

Decolonization is a resistance to this and a shift of power back to those colonized. Decolonization centers Indigenous frameworks in changing society, and rejecting euro-centric norms.

3. Diaspora

Diaspora describes people who have voluntarily or involuntarily moved to foreign countries, “people who live outside their natal territories and recognize that their traditional homelands are reflected deeply in the languages they speak, religions they adopt, and the cultures they produce.” For example, the dispersion of people from Africa due to the Transatlantic Slave Trades is called the African Diaspora. This term encompasses all people whose origins lie in Africa and considers how there may be shared experiences, even in different parts of the world. Understanding the term makes us consider origins, history and context.

4. Implicit Bias

The word bias refers to prejudice in favor of, or against a person, group or thing. It’s normally a negative thing against a group in our context. Implicit means that it’s not necessarily intentional, but it’s been ingrained into society and in turn, our brains. Your implicit bias affects your actions without you knowing. Making sure we’re aware of our biases, is important, but hard. If at any time they come up, take a second to question yourself.

5. Institutional, Internalized and Structural/Systemic Racism

Institutional Racism is about the policies institutions have that impact racial groups differently. Minor rules that work to control IBPOC people are an example. It is influenced by systemic/structural racism and is a direct result of it, but is more hidden than a blatant racist comment.

Internalized Racism is about how groups that are oppressed unintentionally support the supremacy of the dominating group by participating in certain attitudes, behaviors and social structures. Basically it’s a term for being conditioned into being racist against yourself and others like you.

Structural/Systemic Racism is the big umbrella, it’s how all our systems and structures continue racialized inequality. It includes historical, cultural and psychological aspects of our society. Every form of racism falls under this umbrella and shows us that racism has been built into society.

The importance of these terms is to help us realize that it isn’t just active racism that is the problem. The problem is much larger scale and the foundations in society are what allow blatant racism to continue.

6. Intersectionality

A term that helps us remember how people’s intersecting identities of race, class, gender and beyond all create unique experiences. It’s an idea that shows us that a Black woman’s racialized experience will not be the same as a Black man’s, and their gendered experience will not be the same as a white woman’s. It is not additive, you can’t separate the parts from each other. It is necessary to consider so that we remember these unique experiences when discussing any form of social justice.

7. Microaggression

These are small forms of racism that occur every day. These actions may not be hostile, but continue the “other-ing” of marginalized groups. This can range from the common “where are you really from”, to holding your purse a little bit tighter when walking past a Black man. Microaggressions make people feel as though they do not belong.

8. Oppression

If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably seen this term used lots in your life. You probably have a good idea of what it means, but here is a more in depth definition. Oppression at its core is subjecting a group to unjust control from another group. Oppression in a more physical sense is being “weighed down in body or mind” which is actually a decent way to look at the impacts of oppression. It’s not an obvious cruelty, but a constant form of keeping one group down so others can have control.

9. Privilege

Privilege is another term you’ve probably heard but just in case here’s a concrete definition. It’s an inherent social power that exists for some groups. Here is where intersectionality is brought up again, because though you may belong to certain groups, your experiences will differ due to privilege. As a cisgender, heterosexual white male, you have privilege in many ways. As a transgender, heterosexual white male, you have privilege in some ways, but you will face issues that the former will not. Privilege does not mean you have not worked hard to be where you are. It simply means you won’t be prevented from doing something because of inherent traits.

10. White Supremacy

Here’s the basis of our society, the idea that white people and their beliefs, thoughts, actions and systems are superior to other groups. This doesn’t just exist with neo-Nazi’s and the Ku Klux Klan, this is pervasive in all of society. White people benefit from structural advantages that other groups do not. We see it in TV shows featuring white people more than anyone else, white authors being more celebrated, white academics being taken more seriously – it exists everywhere. We’re conditioned to think whiteness is superior. All racialized people have to constantly fight for that same footing.

Being an ally takes work and time. This is a good first step, but continue to do research and find more information about how racist systems continue.




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